Friday, November 29, 2013

The Thing.

            “What’s in a name? For, a rose by any other name smells just as sweet” (Shakespeare).
            How sentimental. But is this, one of the most well known lines from Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, accurate? If, in fact, any other name would suffice just as well, let’s try it another way, shall we?
            What’s in a thing? For, a thing by any other thing would smell just as sweet.
            What does that even mean? We took away every specificity there was in that line and sloppily slapped in possibly one of the laziest words ever, as fillers for the gaps–basically for the purpose of sapping away commitment.
            “Thing.” Ah, what a creation of a word. What a euphemism, what a cop-out! We say that we like “things”. We do “things”. We possess “things”. We engage in “things”. Sometimes, we even call ourselves “things”. So what are these things?
            My friend always derisively sneers out the word that is so often used to dub high school relationships to express her malcontent and contempt for the thoroughly wimpy descriptor. Seriously, what’s in a thing? For, a “thing” by any other name would in fact be preferable.
            The word is so overused that the diction is…typical. That behavior, that shying away from specificity, is absolutely run-of-the-mill nowadays. For, our inability to articulate delves deeper to our mental and emotional selves.
            Think of 500 Days of Summer. Remember that girl no audience member really likes? She never wanted to put a name to her relationship with Tom Hansen; she called it “labeling”. By doing so, though, she made basically the whole…thing… well, just that: a thing. It was a facsimile of a sham, nebulous and confusing and frustrating to everyone involved (except maybe her). She showcased some serious commitment issues while in that scam of a relationship (and then goes on to actually get married to different guy!). Remember the frustration we all felt toward her lackeying, her vacillating? 
            The word “thing” is a safety blanket. We hide behind it, throwing it in front of us hastily like Harry Potter’s Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder to try and disguise our indecision. The word is intentionally vague, and even complacent. It allows us to dodge making a real commitment and putting any actual meaning into our activities, our persons, our relationships–whatever we are replacing with the word–like the girl from 500 Days of Summer.
            I used to throw the word around equally casually, even in my writing; it was not until I began working on college essays that I recognized the intolerably cloudy and blank nature of the word. In college essays, one must be specific and clear. No “things” could possibly be allowed. Despite the fact that I knew my potential major and what I wanted to do following undergraduate education, I found myself still clinging to this safety blanket, ducking behind maybe-sos and half-baked back-up plans. But, there comes a time when we must grow up and define ourselves, the same way growing children must discard their blankies or teddies or thumb-sucking habits.
            After all, could we possibly be content to say that something cannot be known, and thus, just let it be? Say that we can’t make up our minds, and so that’s that, nothing else to it? Can we leave our decisions ambiguous and dwell contentedly in our muffled, nebulous cocoons? In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the main character, Billy Pilgrim, lives in a self-induced state of complacency and ignorance. His wife dies? “So it goes.” Billy passes by a homeless man frozen to death? “So it goes.” He cannot expend additional effort trying to define his feelings, trying to feel in the first place, painful it would be, and so he stops and leaves it at “So it goes” (Vonnegut). He is content to let these occurrences pass him by, to sit on the sidelines. He never seeks; he merely watches and shrugs in blasé abandonment.
            Bertrand Russell discussed a similar type of person with the “practical man” in a chapter entitled “The Value of Philosophy” from his book The Problems of Philosophy; the practical man is one who does not seek to expand his mind through the pondering of apparently impossible universal questions (of appearance and reality, infinity, the existence of God), simply because the questions appear impossible. The effort is not worth expending because nothing definite would be gained, such a person might claim. He/she completely disregards the fact that such endeavors are embarked upon so we can strive for better and expand our minds–explore the “Not-Self” (Russell).
            We must attempt to know ourselves, then set out on forays toward the unknown, and, above all, never stop seeking.
            The unformed sludge that happens to be liquid concrete is unstable and often unidentifiable. It is quite unpleasant to passersby, being the oozing mire that it is. Fully formed, though, concrete is the foundation of American roads and gives us a level surface on which to keep moving smoothly forward without stumbling.
            We must keep our words, and lives, concrete.

P.S. I want to write a "What am I thankful for" post, but I haven't had the time! Hopefully, that will be up soon. Also, I am quite the hypocrite because I say "thing" all the time. :(

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